MY WIFE ASKED me what I wanted for Father's Day. I smiled and tried to think of something she'd believe I desperately wanted.

In truth, there's nothing she or the children could offer me that could equal the gifts they've already given. Not money, not trinkets, not awards or accolades. That realization, in many ways, is my greatest lesson in fatherhood. For in becoming a father I learned what it is to be a man.

I was 24 and unmarried when my first child was born. I hardly knew what it was to be an adult, much less a father. But I never abandoned the willingness to try. It was in trying that I learned that fatherhood is not an investment of money or things. Real fatherhood is an investment of time.

Only time can teach the lessons that come alive when a man and woman fall in love and marry. Only time can teach a man that a child is a gift unto itself. Only time can teach a man that his example is the greatest lesson he can give to his children.

In the nine years I've been married, I've learned that time is the rarest of treasures; priceless because it disappears so quickly. In the blink of an eye, my daughter Eve, whom I can still see as a baby on my shoulder, is 7 years old and brilliant. In an instant, Little Solomon, who was seemingly just in diapers, is nearly 5, and muscle-bound. In no time, my daughter Adrianne, whom I still remember feeding with a bottle, is almost 17, and beautiful.

Love makes the passage of time bearable. It holds us together. It keeps us engaged. It makes us strong. But make no mistake. Love can't make time stop. While love has no limits, time is finite. While possibilities are endless, time is not. While hope springs eternal, time ends.

Through ups and downs, triumphs and losses, deaths and births, I've learned that love is best demonstrated by time.

Perhaps that's why, when my wife asked me what I wanted for Father's Day, I was unsure of what to say. You see, my family has given me gifts already, and I recount those gifts as I think back over time.

I watched my wife give birth to two children, and in witnessing her pain, I recognized that childbirth is a gift. I watched her love our children - all three of them - and realized that sharing my life with a woman of character is a gift.

I watched our children learn to walk, talk, laugh and cry, and I learned that each moment I have with them is a gift. When I push Little Solomon on a swing, or hop on a carousel with Eve, or ride a roller coaster with Adrianne, the joy in their eyes is my gift.

Over time, I've stored up countless gifts like those, because they are the essence of fatherhood. In those tiny bits of time, love is shared, memories are created and bonds are strengthened. Minutes at a time, children come to know that their fathers love them, and dads come to know what fatherhood is really about.

What do I want for Father's Day? I want to kiss my wife and thank her for loving my children. I want to play catch with my son and teach him to run with a handoff. I want to take Eve to the mall and ride on the carousel. I want to listen to Adrianne's newest poem.

But more than anything, I want to reflect on the gifts I've already received: hearing my children's laughter, watching them learn and grow, loving them through each moment we've shared. If I can take the time to see those gifts for what they are, I can finally tell my wife the truth. I have more gifts than any man deserves, and every day is Father's Day for me. *

Solomon Jones' column appears every Saturday. He can be reached at